Stoltenberg confirms Georgia 'will join NATO'
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has reiterated the bloc's commitment to grant the former Soviet Republic of Georgia eventual membership, despite Moscow's fierce opposition.
He was in the Georgian capital Tbilisi, on 25 March, to attend 12-day joint NATO-Georgia military exercises that kicked off last week.
Mr Stoltenberg said: 'The 29 allies have clearly stated that Georgia will become a member of NATO. We will continue working together to prepare for Georgia's NATO membership.'
In an apparent reference to Russia, he said that no country had the right to influence NATO's open-door policy.
'We are not accepting that Russia, or any other power, can decide what (NATO) members can do.'
At a 2008 summit in Romania, NATO leaders said Georgia would join the bloc at an unspecified future date but have so far refused to put the country on a formal path to membership.
The prospect of Georgia joining NATO is seen by the Kremlin as a Western incursion into its traditional sphere of influence.
Georgian Prime Minister Manuka Bakhtadze said that Moscow had no right to prevent a sovereign country from choosing 'its security arrangement.'
He said: 'Membership is the choice of the Georgian people and is enshrined in our constitution.'
Held at the Krtsanisi Georgia-NATO Joint Training and Evaluation Centre outside Tbilisi, the joint drills involve 350 servicemen from the US, Britain, France, Germany and 17 other allied nations as well as Azerbaijan, Finland, and Sweden.
Tensions between Tbilisi and Moscow over Georgia's pro-western trajectory and control of the Black Sea nation's breakaway regions led to a brief but bloody war in 2008.
During the conflict over the Moscow-backed separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Russia routed Georgia's small military in just five days and recognised the independence of the breakaway territories.
Moscow then stationed military bases there in what the West and Tbilisi have denounced as an: 'illegal military occupation.'
Last year, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said Georgia's eventual NATO entry 'could provoke a terrible conflict'.
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